Contract Etiquette

That first book contract arrives in your inbox. The initial reaction is joy, perhaps a bit of screaming. Your hand shakes a little as you hover the mouse over the email, thinking that you’re not sure if you want to open the message. Maybe the part of the message you read doesn’t hold good news. Are you ready to read this note and perhaps have your hopes dashed again?

Finally, you are looking at a contract offer for your novel. This is your first step into the stratosphere, you think. Soon, you’ll be wined and dined on the talk show circuit. People will know your name. Fans will hound you for autographs. All you have to do is read and sign the attached contract.

As a good, responsible person, you read every single word of the contract. Some of the information bothers you. It appears this publisher has a contract that won’t look after what you believe are your needs. That just won’t happen, you decide.

Believing you deserve the best for your first book, you go online to research how to amend a contract. Sure, this publisher has indicated on their website that they don’t make changes to their contract, but you know better. They have to accept your changes because they have accepted you—their soon to be Best Selling Author—into their ranks.

With this in mind, you change the font color to red and add in items you feel are important. You will maintain film and audio rights. Those are important in your path to success, so you must control them. You have to have all control over cover art. Oh, and that pesky clause about being available for events—only if it matches your schedule, which you’ve decided will be exclusive only to places where you feel you can increase your sales.

That’s right. No small bookstore will ever find you within its walls. Local radio and television interviews? Not for you. You must be marketed at the national level only. After all, you are the next well known author. People will soon be stopping you on the street, demanding that you sign their copy of your International Best Seller.

You’ve made all these assumptions without understanding the one thing your publisher knows from experience. You are a first time author. It doesn’t matter who knows you in your profession. No one cares that it took you ten years to refine your book. The national television interview shows will not book you into one of their spots, to give you the chance to talk about your book and how well its doing.

But you ignore all of this. You will have a contract you know will benefit you. The rest of the authors for this publisher will have to stand aside while you and you alone make them look like the chumps that they are. Satisfied that you have changed everything you think would hold you back, to reflect a contract that will benefit you, you send that back to the publisher. Your note telling them that they can approve this amended contract, so you and they can move forward appears to be very professional. Smiling, you sit back and think about all the fun you’re about to embark on, once the publisher approves your very minor changes.

It might take a day, or a few hours, but you will get a message in return. If you’re lucky, the publisher will simply tell you that they don’t amend their contract and if you are still interested, you can sign the one they originally sent you. If you’re not lucky, the only message you may receive is one thanking you for your interest in XYZ Publishing and wishing you well in your future endeavors.

In other words, all those changes you made have just lost you the chance to be part of a publishing company. In fact, you can count on the fact that this publisher will never read another book you submit to them.

If you are lucky enough to be given a second chance to sign the contract as it was presented to you, think about your response before you blow off the chance to be with this publisher. They’re not desperate (your first thought). They’re giving you the chance to rethink your decision.

A first book contract is a golden opportunity for you as an author. A publisher is taking a chance on an unknown quantity. You have yet to brand your name, become known as a responsible author. That can take between five and ten years to accomplish—five to ten years of hard work every single day, no matter how badly you feel or how busy you are. There is no instant path to becoming a Best Selling author. It’s hard work and the ability to stay in the game for the long run. If you are lucky enough to receive a contract, remember this.

Changing anything on it is the worst mistake you can ever make.


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